In the last few years, a lot has changed about dogs and dog training. We know so much more about dogs and the way they learn than we did 10, 20, 30 and even 50 years ago. Dog training really started during WWI, and since then has evolved in the billion dollar industry that it is today.
One of the best things that happened to dog training is positive reinforcement. To give the dog something they want in return for a behavior we want. It's that simple, and we do it all the time with those around us. Would you go to work without a paycheck? What if your boss asked you to do twice the work for half the pay? You get money for the work you do, so you feel good about doing the work (at least I hope you do). If your boss stopped giving you your paycheck, you would probably look for another job, right? So if your dog is not getting positive attention for being good (their paycheck), they look for other ways to get attention (jumping, barking, chewing). You get positively rewarded for the work your boss wants from you. Positive Reinforcement is all around us all the time. If my son wants something he has to say please first; if my dog wants to eat, she has to sit for it first.
If your dog is constantly getting positive attention for doing nothing, why should they behave for you? It's never too late to implement a few rules in your house. Think of it as good dog house manners.
Positive reinforcement seems like such a simple concept, and most people agree with it, once they understand it, but what about leadership and dominance? In the dog training world, words like leadership and dominance have become 4 letter words. It's very taboo to talk about it for fear you might get labeled as a dominance trainer. But can we really co-exist with anything without a certain measure of leadership and dominance? Lets first look at the definition of leadership: the process of social influence in which an individual can enlist the help of others in the accomplishment of a common task; or a person who guides or directs an individual or group. I challenge you to find a species of animal that lives in a social group (longer than half a year) that does NOT have a leader. Leaders and leadership is so ingrained in our society that we don't even question it, and many would feel hopeless without it.
Dog's aren't so different. They need leaders too. But what they don't need is a leader that is aggressive. Dogs establish leadership through dominance, and to co-exist with dogs, we need to understand that. We need to communicate our way of life to them, so they can live harmoniously with us. We are a very different species, and the book "The Other End of the Leash" by Patricia McConnell (please visit www.TheOtherEndOfTheLeash.com for more info on the relationship between humans and dogs) is an EXCELLENT book to read to understand the differences better. One very big similarity between humans and dogs is leadership. They need it and we can provide it. If we don't provide leadership, we could have a very big problem on our hands when it comes to our sidekicks!
The definition of dominance (as it relates to two individuals behavior) is the power and influence over others. Dominance should NEVER be about aggression. In fact dogs do all sorts of things with EACH OTHER to establish dominance that people should NEVER replicate. For example, dogs wrestle with each other, pin each other to the ground, bite, fight, show their teeth in warning, growl, etc. Dogs perform these actions so quickly, it would be close to impossible to be able to replicate them, and when people try all they do is create fear in the dog; fear of the owner; fear of the leader. Any leader who's looking for fear in their followers is a poor leader. Respect can only be gained by leaders who show respect.
There are several things that you can do in your daily interactions with your dog to establish dominance, or (to be more PC) "house manners"....
Make them wait at the doors. Teach them that you go through first and they follow after you. Wouldn't it be rude if a child shoved you out of the way to get out the door? We don't tolerate it in our own species, but yet it's almost encouraged in dogs. Teach them this very simple way to show respect and you'd be surprised in how they start to listen to you better.
Don't allow them to sleep in bed with you. Sure it's nice, warm, and cuddly. All the things we humans like. But is your dog getting the same message? How long would you let your child sleep in bed with you? Until their 10? 14? 21? At some point you'd stop that, by why let your dog sleep in bed with you? You dog (unfortunately) can not be a perpetual child. They grow up into adult dogs, and adult dogs don't interpret sleeping in the bed as a way to respect you. Here's a great graph that shows your dogs true age.
Feed them on a schedule and try to eat before they do. A leader provides the food. Not just for dogs, but for humans too. You have more respect for someone if you're hungry and they provide food for you. Did you ever yell at the lunch lady at school (if so...shame, shame, shame on you!!); or tell your mom after cooking dinner how horrible the food was; and what about all those cooking shows? Don't you think Chef Ramsey's a little (a lot!!) rude? The provider/preparer of the food deserves respect because food is a NEED, not a want. So to keep your dog understanding that you're the leader, provide the food for them instead of letting them find it on their own (grazing throughout the day). As far as eating before you do, it could be something as simple as a couple of crackers, or a piece of fruit; it doesn't have to be a big meal.
Teach them obedience. This isn't the same as tricks like high five or roll over (although those are fun too!), but instead teach them that when people come over, a dog with good manners sits to be pet.
Leadership and dominance have their place in the dog training world as much as positive reinforcement. Without the right mix of the three, you'll have a very unhappy sidekick at your side.